Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ideology of violence in mainstream US

Chicago is said to be increasing in violence. The solutions to this violence unfortunately are decided more by ideology than an honest reading of the scholarship.

When countering the fear-mongering about crime, people will typically cite the book The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. The book is hundreds upon hundreds of pages long, written by a Harvard psychology professor, and is almost universally taken to be gospel by the mainstream left. Outside of the mainstream, such as in the International Socialist Review, some of the conclusions about foreign policy have been rightfully debunked, a mirror of past faux-scientific studies of terrorism that Noam Chomsky, another lefty critic, had debunked.

In my own research, Pinker has done more than only mishandle US foreign policy and attribution of blame. He's also mishandled the scientific understanding of violence.

Pinker attributes drops in violence to what he calls the Leviathan, an enlightened hegemon imposing its power. He cites a major study on American homicides by Randolph Roth.

I've placed above the black bar the Elias civilizing process as summarized by Pinker, and highlighted in red the stripped re-interpretation done by Pinker (emphasis mine):

The two civilizing forces, then, reinforce each other, and Elias considered them to be part of a single process. The centralization of state control and its monopolization of violence, the growth of craft guilds and bureaucracies, the replacement of barter with money, the development of technology, the enhancement of trade, the growing webs of dependency among far-flung individuals, all fit into an organic whole. And to prosper within that whole, one had to cultivate faculties of empathy and self-control until they became, as he put it, second nature.
_________      [snip snip]     ________________
Figure 3-12 superimposes Roth's data from New England on Eisner's compilation of homicide rates from England. The sky-high point of colonial New England represents Roth's Elias-friendly observation that "the era of frontier violence, during which the homicide rate stood at over 100 per 100,000 adults per year, ended in 1637 when English colonists and their Native American allies established their hegemony over New England." After this consolidation of state control, the curves for old England and New England coincide uncannily.
The rest of the Northeast also saw a plunge from triple-digit and high-double-digit homicide rates to the single digits typical of the world's countries today.

Note "the growth of craft guilds." The summary of Elias is the only reference to labor power in the book. Pinker has, in his interpretation of Roth and Elias, missed their similarity. What Elias described as "guilds" today are called unions. On page 440 of American Homicide, Roth observes:

Obsessed with proving his Leviathan theory, Pinker not only glosses the eventual genocide on the continent, usually done with some help from "Native American allies" warring on behalf of colonial hegemons, but omits the more recent evidence by Roth that it is not only power from above but below that civilizes a country.

Whatever the cure is for violence should be, the debate is far too narrow. Why are colonial practices prized more than labor power? Steven Pinker and others in the mainstream practice what is at best greedy reductionism. Pinker has since gone on to research how IQ makes people rich, attracting the interest of young technocratic racists. Modern eugenics.

Assuming violent crime is on the rise, Chicago cannot be a better example of Pinker's Leviathan failing to reduce violence. Rahm Emanuel and his business allies consider a de-centralized Chicago to be a "risk" to regional growth. The recent commission to decide whether to build a George Lucas museum on the gorgeous Chicago lake was "composed of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointees and three new members." The plan to modernize Chicago with a manufacturing school on the West Side was hampered by high dropout rates, an absurd dumbed-down curriculum, and did nothing to check the skepticism of continuing control through racist domination in the workforce.

The one single program that reduced violence, by about a third where it was put into force, was axed after the police "suggested the anti-violence group undermines respect for police in some neighborhoods, as it sometimes mediates conflicts without police involvement." The announcement to ax the program was only a little over a year after the police complaint (June 12, 2012). Emanuel denies police input in the decision instead citing charges aimed at one of its members, which looks a lot like a hand-wave to me. They were indeed dropped. Regardless of the motive, Leviathan won.

As can be seen by his treatment of people in Section 8 housing, mayor Rahm Emanuel buys into the platform of "New Urbanism" which argues that the ills of society are cultural. Violence is coded racially, often hiding behind terms like "schools," "neighborhoods," and "traditional morals." The mayor has since blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for an increase in violence, a debunked trope sometimes called "the Ferguson effect."

Black people, like Native Americans and most people who have been conquered or considered enemies, are seen as culturally backward, refusing to integrate middle-class values. White people I know, even while dealing drugs, will often tell a story illustrating the correct behavior around cops to explain why black people are so harassed by the state. The ideology runs deep. But, white people commit crime too. And sometimes white people most responsible for continuing  violence are far from poor.

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